Franco was born on 4 December 1892 at 108 Calle Frutos Saavedra in Ferrol, Galicia.
In 1907, he entered the Infantry Academy in Toledo, graduating in July 1910 as second lieutenant (251st out of 312 cadets).
At 19, Franco was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in June 1912.
He obtained a commission to Morocco. Spanish efforts to occupy their new African protectorate provoked the protracted Rif War (from 1909 to 1927) with native Moroccans.
On 24 July 1921, the poorly commanded and overextended Spanish Army suffered a crushing defeat at Annual from Rif tribesmen led by the Abd el-Krim brothers.
On 22 October 1923, Franco married María del Carmen Polo y Martínez-Valdès.
Promoted to colonel, Franco led the first wave of troops ashore at Al Hoceima in 1925.
This landing in the heartland of Abd el-Krim's tribe, combined with the French invasion from the south, spelled the beginning of the end for the short-lived Republic of the Rif. Franco's recognition eventually caught up with him and he was promoted to brigadier general on 3 February 1926.
Franco was removed as Director of the Zaragoza Military Academy in 1931; about 95% of his former Zaragoza cadets later came to side with him in the Civil War.
With the fall of the monarchy in 1931, Franco did not take any notable stand. But the closing of the Academy in June by War Minister Manuel Azaña provoked his first clash with the Spanish Republic.
On 5 February 1932, he was given a command in Coruña.
After the ruling centre-right coalition collapsed amid the Straperlo corruption scandal, new elections were scheduled. Two wide coalitions formed: the Popular Front on the left, ranging from Republican Union to Communists, and the Frente Nacional on the right, ranging from the centre radicals to the conservative Carlists. On 16 February 1936, the left won by a narrow margin.
On 23 February Franco was sent to the Canary Islands to serve as the islands' military commander, an appointment perceived by him as a destierro (banishment).
In June, Franco was contacted and a secret meeting was held within the forest of La Esperanza on Tenerife to discuss starting a military coup. An obelisk commemorating this historic meeting was erected at the site in a clearing at Las Raíces.
On 23 June 1936, he wrote to the head of the government, Casares Quiroga, offering to quell the discontent in the Spanish Republican Army, but received no reply.
The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 and officially ended with Franco's victory in April 1939, leaving 190,000 to 500,000 dead.
Following 18 July 1936 pronunciamiento, Franco assumed the leadership of the 30,000 soldiers of the Spanish Army of Africa. The first days of the insurgency were marked with a serious need to secure control over the Spanish Moroccan Protectorate. On one side, Franco had to win the support of the natives and their (nominal) authorities, and, on the other, had to ensure his control over the army.
From 20 July onward Franco was able, with a small group of 22 mainly German Junkers Ju 52 aircraft, to initiate an air bridge to Seville, where his troops helped to ensure the rebel control of the city.
The designated leader of the uprising, General José Sanjurjo, died on 20 July 1936, in a plane crash.
From 24 July a coordinating junta was established, based at Burgos. Nominally led by Cabanellas, as the most senior general, it initially included Mola, three other generals, and two colonels; Franco was later added in early August.
Through representatives, he started to negotiate with the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy for more military support, and above all for more aircraft. Negotiations were successful with the last two on 25 July.
On 21 September it was decided that Franco was to be commander-in-chief (this unified command was opposed only by Cabanellas), and, after some discussion, with no more than a lukewarm agreement from Queipo de Llano and from Mola, also head of government.
Emilio Mola y Vidal, 1st Duke of Mola, Grandee of Spain was one of the three leaders of the Nationalist coup of July 1936, which started the Spanish Civil War.
On 21 September, with the head of the column at the town of Maqueda (some 80 km away from Madrid), Franco ordered a detour to free the besieged garrison at the Alcázar of Toledo, which was achieved on 27 September.
On 1 October 1936, in Burgos, Franco was publicly proclaimed as Generalísimo of the National army and Jefe del Estado (Head of State).
By early 1939 only Madrid and a few other areas remained under control of the government forces. On 27 February Chamberlain's Britain and Daladier's France officially recognized the Franco regime.
On 28 March 1939, with the help of pro-Franco forces inside the city (the "fifth column" General Mola had mentioned in propaganda broadcasts in 1936), Madrid fell to the Nationalists.
Victory was proclaimed on 1 April 1939, when the last of the Republican forces surrendered. On the same day, Franco placed his sword upon the altar of a church and in a vow, promised that he would never again take up his sword unless Spain itself was threatened with invasion.
On 14 June 1940, Spanish forces in Morocco occupied Tangier (a city under the rule of the League of Nations) and did not leave it until the war's end in 1945.
On 19 June 1940, Franco pressed along a message to Hitler saying he wanted to enter the war, but Hitler was annoyed at Franco's demand for the French colony of Cameroon, which had been German before World War I, and which Hitler was planning on taking back for Plan Z.
On 23 October 1940, Hitler and Franco met in Hendaye in France to discuss the possibility of Spain's entry on the side of the Axis. Franco's demands, including supplies of food and fuel, as well as Spanish control of Gibraltar and French North Africa, proved too much for Hitler.
Franco and Serrano Suñer held a meeting with Mussolini and Ciano in Bordighera, Italy on 12 February 1941. Mussolini affected not to be interested in Franco's help due to the defeats his forces had suffered in North Africa and the Balkans, and he even told Franco that he wished he could find any way to leave the war.
When the invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941, Franco's foreign minister Ramón Serrano Suñer immediately suggested the formation of a unit of military volunteers to join the invasion. Volunteer Spanish troops fought on the Eastern Front under German command from 1941 to 1944.
Franco signed a revised Anti-Comintern Pact on 25 November 1941.
On 26 July 1947 Franco proclaimed Spain a monarchy, but did not designate a monarch.
The visit of US President Dwight Eisenhower to Spain in 1953, which resulted in the Pact of Madrid.
Spain was then admitted to the United Nations in 1955.
Officially, he died a few minutes after midnight on 20 November 1975 from heart failure, at the age of 82.